Pete Wilkinson advises ditching new years resolutions in favour of a programme of beneficial routines as the route to personal and professional success
Be honest, did you keep to your new year's resolutions this year, or have you given up setting them altogether?
Research shows that only 8% of people actually stick to their resolutions, so it's clear that, for most of us, they simply do not work. Worse, it gives us the impression that we can't make positive changes. Having this reinforced is not the way to be effective and certainly not the way to make the most of yourself.
Try something different
Making a change is far more sustainable if you set yourself up to win. When it comes to personal change (which is what most people want when they set resolutions), it's far more effective to focus on habits.
Successful people have successful traits, it's as simple as that. These could be studying, communication, self-leadership, investing, working, health or eating habits. Wherever you look, it is all about routines. So where do you start?
The first action is this: begin a new successful habit every single business quarter. Just imagine how much more effective you will be as you build four new successful traits every year. In as little as three years you will have 12 new habits, all serving you to be increasingly effective.
Do you know what the biggest mistake people make is when they start running? They run too far and too fast. People have a lot of enthusiasm when they begin - they buy new running gear and look the part. As they start they really want to succeed. The problem is that the first morning they go out, they overdo it, get really out of breath and find it very difficult. So they are put off and say they will 'get back to it sometime in the future'.
The fatal mistake is that they did not set themselves up to win - a common problem with new year's resolutions. People try to make a really big change, possibly something they have been thinking about for a while, and try to do it all straight away. Without being fully prepared, they take massive steps instead of smaller, more sustainable ones, causing them to struggle and quickly grind to a halt.
You can be different. You can break down the year into four chunks - business quarters are ideal. The new habits introduced do not have to be massive changes. They can be small steps that are more sustainable. Because your plan is to build slowly and gradually, the chances you will stick to it are increased.
Which are best habits?
During 2014, I delivered more than 50 workshops to chief executives, managing directors and their executive teams and realised that there are a few common habits people had a desire to form. These habits were discovered after looking at how effective people were in percentage terms and then looking at what habit they would have to form if they were to become 15% more effective. I accept that this method of self-scoring is subjective but when the exercise is run you would be amazed at how honest people are with themselves. Some of the most common desirable traits are shown in Table 1 (above).
In the past, some of my own quarterly habits have been modest but have been maintained. I've chosen to develop those shown in Table 2 (below). I can be honest and say that each of these habits, implemented quarterly, has enabled me to become more effective and helped me make a real impact.
It would be a great idea to spend a little time thinking which habits you would like to form, then you could stack them ready and waiting to be deployed. Imagine how great and in control you are going to feel as a new business quarter is about to start.
Before this, however, you need to know that every habit needs three things and, without these, it is unlikely that you'll stick to building it. When you pick your first habit (and you need to get your finger out as Q1 has already started) run through this list.
Knowledge Do you require any further knowledge in order to build your new habit? When I wanted to become better at achieving my goals I invested in a book on the subject to help me and increase my knowledge.
Once I acquired that knowledge, I was more prepared.
Skill I developed the skill of becoming a goal achiever by practice. I practised writing them out every day in the morning before I started working.
Desire If you do not really desire the result that your new habit will enable, it is unlikely you will persist in developing it. Get a really clear picture of what you will experience and benefit once it is formed. If it is more business success, what does that look like? Can you measure it? If it is more time, think about what extra things you will spend your time doing and how will they make you feel.
Forget new year's resolutions and become a quarterly habit-former. Stack your habits and have one ready to be deployed every business quarter and stick to it. Start small and persist. It is easier to persist if you focus on 'knowledge', 'skill' and 'desire'. Enjoy becoming more effective and share the process with others to help them.
Pete Wilkinson is author of Unstoppable: Using the Power of Focus to Take Action and Achieve your Goals, published by Capstone